So the race is underway and we have already had a chance to see all the contenders in action in yesterday's short time trial. Even so, it is still impossible to pick out any one favourite and this looks like the closest and most interesting Tour de France for many years.
Last year's winner Vincenzo Nibali's preparation looks impeccable and with a similar first week to last year he could be in yellow early again. However, the mountains later in the race are going to be tougher than last year and putting Alpe d'Huez on the last Saturday of the race gives the purer climbers a great chance to take the overall.
That, combined with the lack of individual time trial kilometres makes me think that Quintana could well become the first ever Colombian winner of Le Tour. The course is perfect for him, he has a very strong team for the team time trial and to support him in the mountains. If he can get through the first nine days in a good position he will be very hard to beat.
Froome looks good and after the embarrassment of 2014's early exit he won't make those mistakes again. He still looks a bit fragile psychologically and his climbing is not quite at the same level as Quintana, but I think that he will be the last to drop off in the mountains. The team is also looking very strong and after Porte's disappointing Giro they will be fired up for the Tour.
The course also looks well-suited to Thibaut Pinot but I doubt he can improve on 2014s third place. His team will probably lose a bit of time on stage 9's team time trial and I doubt he will be able to stay with Quintana as long as Froome in the really high mountains.
Contador has said that he wants to win the Giro–Tour double to cement his place as one of the greats, but I doubt he can pull it off at this stage in his career and personally I hope that he doesn't eclipse Marco Pantani's achievement. Although Contador won the Giro, it wasn't a comfortable win and he definitely wasn't the strongest climber. All his competitors will have seen that and he will have a torrid time on the harder climbs. His team don't look as strong in the team time trial and there isn't really anywhere else that he can gain time back.
Cavendish is in great form this year, but there just don't seem to be enough stages for the pure sprinters to give him enough points to take the green jersey. I would guess that he will add another three stages to his overall tally this year and hopefully another one on the Champs-Élysées. Sagan looks very strong and with some of the tricky stages in the first week I think his consistency will bag him another green jersey. But can he win a stage this year?
If all goes to plan for Quintana then he will be right up there for the King of the Mountains and should get enough points to top that classification as well. Majka and Rodriguez will likely have a bad day somewhere that will derail any general classification hopes but both will be fighting hard for the maillot à pois as consolation.
1 Nairo Quintana
2 Chris Froome
3 Thibaut Pinot
4 Vincenzo Nibali
5 Alberto Contador
1 Peter Sagan
2 Mark Cavendish
3 Alexander Kristoff
1 Nairo Quintana
2 Rafal Majka
3 Joaquim Rodriguez